The Next Generation,
Celtic Colours 2001
at Strathspey Place, Mabou,
Cape Breton, NS
(13 October 2001)

When trying to sum up my overall impression of this Celtic Colours event, there are quite a few words which come to mind. Astounding. Phenomenal. Uplifting. Memorable. Any of these would suffice, but it is difficult to put into words the profound effect that these talented young performers had on those in attendance at Mabou's newest venue, Strathspey Place.

The Next Generation concert is an opportunity for up-and-coming young Celtic performers to strut their stuff. This year's performers ranged in age from 11 to 18, but their young ages were clearly no barrier to talent.

The first act to take the stage was the MacDonalds, a group of siblings from nearby Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The three sisters -- Betsy, Ellie and Margaret -- provided a wonderful set of songs featuring beautiful vocal harmonies accompanied by guitar. The band normally includes big brother Peter on guitar as well, but he was elsewhere on this particular occasion. Peter's absence didn't seem to deter the sisters in the least. They provided a well-polished batch of songs featuring both covers and original material. The girls even included a song from area band the Rankins, which went over quite well with the mostly-local crowd. The eldest MacDonald introduced the audience to an original song written for her boyfriend (a picture of whom we were shown -- he could not, unfortunately be in attendance). This song was very well done -- the lyrics, as well as the vocals and arrangement -- and showed a maturity well beyond the sisters' years. This maturity was present throughout the performance and made for a smooth and enjoyable set.

The MacDonalds were followed by a young Cape Breton band, the Cottars (who I will get to shortly) and then by a fine group of performers from Mabou's Dalbrae Academy -- the local high school. Members of the Celtic Crew treated the audience to fiddle tunes, piping, piano tunes, Gaelic song and stepdancing. Again, the act showed a high level of maturity, poise and talent as well as excellent variety. Solos were interspersed with small and large group performances, enabling the students to showcase their talents. The audience was even treated to the sounds of electric bagpipes -- a relative newcomer to the Celtic music scene. An energetic and compelling performance by a delightful bunch of students.

Although I do not wish to detract from the afternoon's other performers, I think it's safe to say that the Cottars' performance rather stole the show. The Cottars comprise two sets of brothers and sisters -- Ciaran and Fiona MacGillvray and Roseanne and Jimmy MacKenzie. These four youngsters (aged 11-14) play a variety of instruments -- fiddle, guitar, tin whistle, bodhran and piano -- as well as singing and stepdancing. And when I say they play these instruments, I mean they play! Although small in stature and young in age, it was clear from the moment the band took the stage that they were a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, after the first set of tunes they played, the audience -- as a whole -- jumped to its feet with a standing ovation.

This only seemed to fire them up for more. The remainder of the Cottars' set was more of the same. Energetic, foot-tapping tunes mixed with song, dance and a stage presence that long-time veterans of the stage would kill for. A band such as this -- young, and so obviously enjoying what they do tends to leave the audience feeling refreshed, energized and positive, and this one was no exception. Roseanne's snappy, upbeat fiddling blended impeccably with her brother's guitar and Ciaran's rhythmic piano, while young Fiona's strong voice belied her tender years (and brought tears to many eyes in the house, I noticed).

Vocal harmonies, well-arranged instrumentals, engaging banter, the joy of performing and -- oh, yes, talent -- this band has it all. Not surprising then, when The Cottars were presented the Tic Butler Memorial Music Award following their performance. This yearly award is given to a promising young Cape Breton musician in recognition of his/her talent and efforts, and the Cottars certainly fit the bill. It was apparent that the audience agreed with this choice, supplying yet another standing ovation as the MacGillvarys and the MacKenzies gracefully accepted their award.

Following the Dalbrae Celtic Crew, all of the afternoon's performers took the stage for a curtain call, allowing the crowd to express their delight in the concert. And delightful it was. It is truly inspiring to see today's youth involved in such a worthwhile pusuit as perpetuating their heritage and culture in the form of music. No doubt we will be hearing more from each of the afternoon's talents in the future as they carry on valuable musical traditions.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 8 December 2001